Diagnosis: disculture. Prognosis: treatable.

Diagnosis: disculture. Prognosis: treatable.

In our last blog we talked about burnout and how, unfortunately, burnout and senior living go together like cold weather and the flu. 

Really, burnout is nothing new. It’s just another symptom of a sickly culture. Skeleton crew team members have to work themselves to the bone to make up for the vacancies left behind by a gaping turnover. We see it coming a mile away…it’s just the natural progression of a culture crisis.

Call it what it is people!!!

When you start feeling sick …fever, fatigue, chills, aches… you may initially wonder what this cluster of symptoms is that’s making you feel like garbage. A doctor may help you identify your symptoms as the flu and a diagnosis is made. You don’t continue on thinking you have a random cluster of symptoms. You know you have the flu.

The same logical thought process should happen here in senior living.

Symptoms: staff burnout, high turnover, poor retention, nonexistent recruitment.

Diagnosis: ummmmmm … staffing problems?

AHHHHH! We don’t need a medical degree to make this diagnosis. But some leaders are so reluctant to pull these textbook, classic symptoms together and call it what it really is: a sick culture.

Maybe it needs a better word. A word that’s firm, that can stand on it’s own. A diagnosis. Like the flu.


Call Merriam-Webster! Did we just coin a new word!? Who knows if this word will be used beyond this blog, but it may be just what we need in this field to finally acknowledge the real problem. A diagnosis.

dis·culture : a sick culture. 

The Cure for Disculture

We hinted in our last blog that we would show you a real life example of how an organization strategically approached disculture and in the process, snuffed out burnout and tackled their turnover! Say this ten times, fast…Tockwotton tackles turnover! 

Our clients, Tockwotton on the Waterfront in Rhode Island, are very innovative when it comes to addressing their organizational challenges. The most common concern discussed during focus groups was their staffing. One team member said it perfectly, “We’re losing good people because they are burned out and frustrated.”

In addition to moving sites and doubling their capacity, Tockwotton leaders knew they were up against something bigger. They engaged Drive and our Data Staffing Analytics Advisor, Vincent Slaugh, assistant professor at Cornell, to dive deep into their turnover data and come up with a plan to remedy their disculture.

Data Analysis to the Rescue!

Professor Slaugh was able to uncover, using his special brand of math magic, that Tockwotton’s CNA call out rate was 65% for certain shifts. The solution he proposed was to add a swing shift person to cover the roving open position, and if there wasn’t an open position on a particular date, that swing person would be an extra set of hands to help out where ever was needed. He also suggested that Tockwotton add an on-call position to again, provide extra coverage. Staff could breath easier knowing there was a fail safe in place so they were not spread so thin all the time. 

Tockwotton also started a mentorship program. In addition to a responsive and engaged leadership team, adding mentors ensured another layer of trust and support for team members. Building a fabric of community and support around associates gives them a better chance of having a healthy work experience and makes sure that their voices are heard.

With a comprehensive culture plan in place, Tockwotton went on to slash their turnover by 26%, decrease overtime by 11% and decrease agency useage by 37%. In addition to taking extra steps to make sure team members didn’t burn out from the stress and scrambling of turnover, taking the time to really understand turnover data resulted in better and more consistent care for their residents. As a result of their analysis and truly understanding what ails them, Tockwotton was able to put in to place initiatives that sustain, really impact outcomes and produce tangible results! All of this was possible because they prioritized their culture.

The first step is truly understanding the problem.

This brief summary is just skimming the surface of all the terrific work Tockwotton did, and continues to do, to get on track with their culture. “In the time that Drive has been working with the Tockwotton team, we have seen positive improvement in our culture, specifically related to resident engagement, staff satisfaction and appreciation, and leadership development. Things that once seemed too difficult to tackle on our own are less intimidating knowing the Drive team is there to coach and guide us throughout the entire journey!”-Kevin McKay, President & CEO of Tockwotton on the Waterfront. 

Just like a doctor assesses a patient for the flu, you have to look at your symptoms from different angles. The same should be done with organizational culture. Talk to your team members, talk to your leadership, talk to your residents, assess and understand your data and then you can create a treatment plan.

Taking the first step is often the hardest. If you are looking for help getting started understanding what ails your organization, ask the culture doctors from Drive! We make house calls! 


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